Published: 15/02/2017 07:30 - Updated: 14/02/2017 14:27

Dogs take the lead in helping children read

Written byNicole Webber

James Stewart shares a story with Morna
James Stewart shares a story with Morna

FURRY friends are helping to boost the reading skills of Inverness school children by lending a sympathetic ear. while youngsters ‘paws’ to gather their thoughts.

The eight reading therapy sessions at Crown Primary School have seen dogs drafted in as friendly faces to boost the confidence of P3 to P7 children when reading aloud.

And parents are already seeing a difference, the school suggestssaid.

Probationary teacher, Hannah Earnshaw piloted the scheme in Inverness after recruiting the help of her aunt and uncle, Catriona and John Addy – who are approved volunteers for Pets Aas Therapy.

Miss Earnshaw said: “The children absolutely love it. When they get stuck on a word and get anxious they can reach out to the dog and work their way through it without being prompted.

“It shows them that they are capable of doing it – parents are already seeing a real difference with children being encouraged to read to their own pets or read bed time stories.”

She was originally sceptical that the dogs could improve reading but, after her own experimental research while at university, her attitude changed.

Teachers in the school were asked to nominate children from each class that would benefit from the extra reading support.

The black and golden retrievers, Blue (4) and Morna (8) sit quietly until the children enter the room. The youngsters then get comfortable on bean bags and cushions and the dogs settle in beside them.

Miss Earnshaw added: “The impact is spreading across classes. The dogs are creating quite a lot of envy – the children don’t feel like they are being taken out of class to receive extra learning support.”

Adrian Munro, Pets As Therapy co-ordinator for the Highlands, said: “It is something that people just aren’t aware of.

“We go to special needs schools, the Highland Hospice and care homes with volunteers and their dogs. It can make a huge difference but there are just not enough volunteers.”

He would encourage anyone who wishes to volunteer their time, or thinks that their pet may be suitable, to get in touch. He hopes that the scheme can be rolled out to other schools across the area if more volunteers are found and, with four pet assessors in the area, he hopes to see more dogs approved.

Pupil Georgia Antliff has already enjoyed two sessions of reading to the dogs. She said: “It is much more fun than reading to grown ups. They don’t say to you, ‘Have you read this before?’, or ‘Have you been practising at home?’ and you can pat them.

“It is really relaxing. I read to my own dog Tara every night before bed now.”

To find out more about volunteering or pet therapy in the Highlands call 07817 827718.

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